DC Comics Presents #85 (September, 1985)
"The Jungle Line"
Writer - Alan Moore
Penciller - Rick Veitch
Inker - Al Williamson
Letterer - John Costanza
Colorist - Tatjana Wood
Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.75
Today we're gonna discuss one of them "ya gotta read this" books. In familiarizing myself with the DC Universe, and the works of Alan Moore, I'd always hear about "that one issue" of DC Comics Presents that I just "gotta read". I heard it was available in the DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore TPB, but as I've made pretty clear, my preferred approach to reading is in the single-issue (don't dare call'em floppies!) format.
In hunting through back-issue bins over the years... when I remembered I wanted to check this one out, I was unsuccessful. This seemed to be the one issue of DC Comics Presents that just refused to show up in the bins... at least in my neck of the woods. As luck would have it, I managed to come across the issue in the quarter bin of a Half-Price Books this past week... on my birthday, in fact! Almost like it was meant to be! It was bagged, boarded... and had the 25-Cent sticker placed over the price tag from a long defunct local comic book store... which read $18. Craziness!
Anyhoo... it's been a long time coming... let's take a look at Superman and Swamp Thing!
We open with an exhausted, fevered, and five-o'clock shadowed Clark Kent driving south on a desolate highway. Riding "shotgun" is a strange rock with an even stranger growth on it. We learn from the narration that he is driving south to die. The splash page depicts an odd scarlet sky... and lemme tell ya, it ain't due to the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
To explain just what in the world is going on, we're going to have to go back in time a few days... to an exhibition at the Institute for Extra-Terrestrial Studies, where news reporters Clark Kent and Lana Lang are in attendance. A Dr. Everett is showing off a small meteorite... which is of significance due to the fact that it has a strange pink (living!) fungus on it... which somehow survived its trip through space. Clark uses his microscopic vision on the mass... and once he is able to focus, he recognizes it from his youth on Krypton.
He is immediately shaken by his revelation, and feigns dizziness to leave the event... or maybe, he's actually feeling dizzy. Either way, he ain't feeling right. He digs through his memory banks and concludes that the fungus on the meteorite is Avarel Uthotis... more commonly known as Bloodmorel. It comes from the Scarlet Jungle on Krypton. Exposure to the crud causes death in 92% of cases reported in Kryptonians. Once it gets into the host body's bloodstream... that's usually all she wrote.
The next day, Clark notices that his powers appear to be on the fritz... he somehow gets a paper cut, as his invulnerability failed to protect him... he would be without it for an hour. Later on, his x-ray vision and super-hearing turned off, resulting in him walking in on a pair of co-workers about to "christen" a storeroom. By the end of the work day, the x-ray vision returned... but not the hearing. Rather than risk flying home and falling out of the sky, Clark decides to take the subway.
That night, he begins hallucinating when he is awakened by... well, his Superman costume and his everyday Clark Kent-togs. They are arguing over whether or not he should accept his fate... having been exposed to the Bloodmorel. Superman insists he fight it... Kent suggests he just accept it.
The next morning, Clark's super-hearing comes back at a most inopportune time... right as he's walking to work during the busy (and loud) morning commute. He decides to check in with Dr. Everett at the Institute in order to inquire about borrowing the specimen. Everett is more than cooperative to Superman's request, and so he takes it home. He uses his microscopic vision on the fungus in order to deduce whether or not he might concoct an antidote to the infection. As he scanned... his microscopic vision stopped working. It is here that Superman resigns himself to his fate... death.
First, however, he must consider where he will go to die. He thinks about his friends, both costumed and otherwise... and decides that he should head south. He wishes to avoid being anywhere near the superhero community when he passes. We hop back to the present, and Clark has... well, fallen asleep behind the wheel of his car... which careens off the highway and flips onto it's roof... before bursting into flames!
Clark stumbles out of the car... holding the meteorite. He is engulfed in flames. He sees himself as wandering through the Scarlet Jungle as he shambles through the clearing. He eventually collapses... right at the feet of our friend Swamp Thing.
We hop back into Superman's head, where he is being haunted by the spirits of the Scarlet Jungle. In the real world, Swamp Thing notices that this fallen commuter's face is fairly familiar... yet he cannot place it. He sees the meteorite and decides to examine it. Once he touches it, it makes "contact"... suddenly, for a brief moment... Swamp Thing sees himself in the Scarlet Jungle as well. He releases the stone, and is whisked back to reality.
Swamp Thing continues to study Clark's face as he mutters in Kryptonian. Swampy opens his jacket, which reveals the familiar "S". At this point Superman wakes up and unleashes a blast of heat vision!
Superman is back "among the living", however, by this point... he is quite mad. He stirs up a hurricane with his breath... he boils the nearby lakes. Swamp Thing deducts that should Superman continue this intensity of exertion... he would most definitely die. And so, he grabs the mossy meteorite and makes a contact-chain between him, it, and Superman.
Suddenly the pair (trio?) are in the Scarlet Jungle. Superman is panicking... yelling at the spirits that haunted him on his last "visit". He crushes Swamp Thing's hand in anger... and with madness in his eyes wallops Swampy with an uppercut. All the while, Swamp Thing is calmly discussing Superman's likely fate.
Finally, Superman begins to remember just what is going on. Swamp Thing invites him to take his hand... to allow the endless green into his body... to allow him to extinguish the scarlet heat.
Superman falls unconscious... and Swamp Thing breaks contact. He brushes his hand across Superman's face, and notes that his fever is fading. The Super-storm has also ended. Swamp Thing smiles knowing that today will not be Superman's last... and he walks away.
We wrap up with Superman regaining consciousness... with his powers intact... and back to "normal". He grips the meteorite and flies back Metropolis way, never knowing about his swampy encounter. Swamp Thing sees him flying overhead and smiles before disappearing into the swampy horizon.
Well... I'll be damned! This was one hell of an issue!
So often when you hear about those stories you "need" to read, they come off as underwhelming. That was most definitely not the case here... really such an amazing story. So weird, this literally could have been the death of Superman... and it would have occurred in a relatively quiet issue of DC Comics Presents. Little (to no) fanfare, no big blowout fight... no clash with a supervillain... just Superman getting sick. So well done!
It's interesting to read this issue now... due to the fact that earlier this year we lost the New-52! Superman after he dealt with an illness. He had to come to grips with his own mortality... and though he went out with a bang... it's still pretty interesting to see in light of this one. Thinking about a Superman who knows he's about to die... purposely avoiding having a run-in with any members of the superhero community... just kind of sobering, right?
Swamp Thing was used... ya know, pretty well here. Considering this is an Alan Moore Swampy story, two things are for certain: 1. Swamp Thing will be portrayed perfectly, and 2. This will be a most intimidating review to write. I love how Swamp Thing is depicted as a sort of wandering soul. He just happens across a fallen commuter... and stops to see if there's anything he can do.
He is a real altruist here. Not stepping in for any personal gain... or hell, even any recognition. He risks his own life for, for all he knew... just "some dude". Of course, we know Superman isn't just "some" anything... but, Swamp Thing learned that after he'd committed to helping him.
It's weird the calming... and peaceful presence Swamp Thing is... just prior to his arrival, we had a couple of pages depicting a car flying off the highway and exploding into a ball of flame. Yet, when Swamp Thing shows up... we're bathed in the calm and peaceful tranquility of the green. There's a lightness... a relief for the reader when he arrives... there's a measure of safety in the character that it is hard for me to quantify... yet, I know that it's there.
The ending was also pretty great. I like that Superman doesn't know... nor will be ever, that he was so close to dying and that he has Swamp Thing to thank for his recovery. Swamp Thing ain't no glory hog... and hell, Superman's recovered from scarier things than this... that's just Tuesday in the life of the Man of Steel, right?
I definitely gotta mention the art. I really wasn't sure what to expect here... never really pegged Rick Veitch as a Superman artist... but damned if he didn't knock this one out of the park. His Clark/Superman looks great... even in his haggardness, there is a "regal" and important look about him. His Swamp Thing has a kindness in his eyes... perhaps adding to that feeling of comfort I get from his presence here. Just a wonderful package Moore and Veitch put together for us here!
This was the last issue of DC Comics Presents before the Crisis on Infinite Earths tie-ins begin... and if this is the last "proper" issue featuring the Silver/Bronze-Age characters... well, it's a helluva way to go out. Definitely worth tracking down... and like I said above, it's been collected in (both versions of) DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore... so, if you grab an older version, you'll also get The Killing Joke! Somehow this gem is yet available on DC Digital... there are some issues of this volume up there, but this ain't among them. Still... seek this one out!
|Look out for strange pink moss!|